The purpose of these Procedures is to ensure that while a matter is under consideration by the TIO:
- providers continue to receive payments for undisputed amounts
- providers stop credit management and do not commence legal action on any disputed amount, and
- consumer detriment is minimised.
When a matter concerns, in our view, a disputed amount, we expect that:
- a consumer will continue to pay all undisputed amounts, and
- the provider will:
- stop its credit management action and not commence legal action on the disputed amount while the matter remains under consideration by us
- actively discuss and organise a reasonable payment arrangement for a debt at the consumer’s request if the consumer is in financial hardship, and
- have regard to the vulnerability of the consumer, including any payment arrangement already in place, before recommencing credit management when the matter is closed.
When, as part of an Enquiry or Complaint, the consumer is seeking a payment arrangement for an undisputed amount due to financial hardship, we expect the consumer to make regular payments in good faith, according to the payment arrangement he or she is seeking.
When a provider does not stop its credit management action as requested, the Ombudsman or Deputy Ombudsman may make a temporary ruling about the provider’s credit management action. The provider must comply with this temporary ruling.
When the provider does not follow the course of action outlined in a temporary ruling, we may refer the provider to the ACMA for non-compliance.
1.0 TIO expectations
When, in our view, the Enquiry or Complaint concerns a disputed amount, we expect the consumer to continue to pay all undisputed amounts.
We will tell the consumer of this expectation at first contact and, if required, help the consumer in working out what the undisputed amount may be.
We will generally stop handling a Complaint if we consider that the consumer is unreasonably withholding payment of undisputed amounts, for example, because the consumer claims to be expecting to receive compensation from the provider that would be equivalent to or greater than the undisputed amount.
When we stop handling the Complaint for the above reason, we will explain our decision to the consumer.
2.0 Payment arrangements for consumers in financial hardship
When a consumer is seeking a payment arrangement due to financial hardship, we will tell the consumer to:
- actively discuss the proposed payment arrangement with the provider
- tell the provider what he or she can afford to pay
- make regular payments in good faith, according to the payment arrangement the consumer is seeking
- review the use of other services with the provider, in light of his or her financial hardship
- tell the provider immediately if he or she is unable to make any particular payment under a payment arrangement, and seek to organise a new arrangement, and
- seek advice, if necessary, from a financial counsellor about his or her financial circumstances.
3.0 Out of jurisdiction matters
When we consider that a matter is outside our jurisdiction, or where we have stopped handling a Complaint, we will generally not tell the consumer to ask the provider to stop its credit management on disputed amounts, but all obligations of the provider under relevant industry codes will still apply.
4.0 Matters involving other providers
We may in some circumstances, tell the consumer to ask a provider to stop its credit management of disputed amounts although the matter relates to an Enquiry or Complaint about another provider, for example, where a consumer is charged an early termination fee by his or her provider as a result of an unauthorised transfer by another provider.
5.0 Enquiries and Complaints
Before referring an Enquiry or Complaint, and if appropriate to do so, we will ask the consumer to provide an estimate of the amount in dispute.
If, due to the circumstances of the matter, the consumer cannot offer any estimate of the disputed amount, we may help the consumer work out the disputed amount.
We will include the disputed amount in the Record.
When we refer a consumer verbally to the provider, we will tell the consumer to:
- ask the provider to suspend credit management for the disputed amount, and
- make payment of all undisputed amounts.
When we refer an Enquiry or Complaint to a provider in writing, the notification will include:
- the approximate total of the disputed amount claimed by the consumer and what it may comprise of
- a requirement for the provider to stop credit management action on the disputed amount until the matter is resolved or decided
- an invitation to contact us if the provider has concerns about a payment arrangement, or the continued use of services by the consumer while the matter is in progress, and
- references to any relevant industry code or TIO Position Statements that may help the provider with any credit management decisions.
If the consumer returns to us to claim that the provider has not stopped its credit management action as requested, we may:
- treat the matter as Urgent
- escalate an Urgent Enquiry or Urgent Level 1 Complaint to Level 2, or
- make a further request that the provider stop credit management of any disputed amount.
If a provider continues with credit management activity after we have asked that it be stopped, the Ombudsman or Deputy Ombudsman may make a temporary ruling about the provider’s credit management action under the TIO Terms of Reference. As an example, a temporary ruling may tell the provider to:
- reconnect a service
- remove a default listing of the consumer, or
- not pursue a debt.
A temporary ruling is automatically binding on the provider:
- for a time we specify, of no more than 90 days
- until the temporary ruling is withdrawn or varied
- until we stop handling the Complaint, or
- until the Ombudsman or Deputy Ombudsman makes another temporary ruling,
whichever occurs soonest.
A further temporary ruling, in the same or different terms, can be issued.
When the provider does not follow the course of action outlined in a temporary ruling, we may refer the provider to the ACMA for non-compliance in accordance with the TIO Complaint Handling Procedures - Refusal to join or failure to comply with the TIO Scheme.
Effective Date: 5 July 2010
Updated on: 30 November 2014